Granted, it's not wise to forecast an entire season based on an opening game against a weaker opponent. But there are insights to be gleaned from the Cougs' opener.
First, Klay Thompson took nine free throws. That's not a ton for a guy who scores as much as he does, but it equals nearly a third of his total attempts from the line last season. This is great news because it means he took the ball to the hoop. Obviously it's going to be tougher for Klay to penetrate the lane and draw fouls against bigger, better teams, but keep in mind that against weaker opponents it's hard not to settle for jumpers when they're available. Klay, with coach Ken Bone's urging, clearly made a conscious decision to drive.
In one of my earlier articles, I wrote that if Klay could round-out his game like this, the Cougars' offensive consistency would climb. Consider his FT attempts the other night perhaps the best news to come out of that game.
If Klay's free throw attempts are headline 1A, consider Abe Lodwick's nine rebounds 1B. I know the Delta Devils' front court isn't anchored by Dunnigan- and Catron-esque type players. But nine rebounds isn't too shabby no matter who you're playing. Especially so when it's accomplished in just 16 minutes of court time and at a position – the 4 – where Abe is new. Now I have be honest -- seeing nine boards next to Abe's name was bittersweet for me. I believe my one-game high in rebounds was seven (impressive, huh?). So when I called up Loddy to talk about the game (work obligations prevented me from actually being there), the reality that a 190-pound sophomore just eclipsed my career rebounding mark was a little hard to swallow.
As for Abe's 1-of-6 shooting effort against Mississippi Valley State, don't panic. I promise. I've shot thousands upon thousands of shots with him. And as I admitted to him this summer, he's a better shooter than me. Now for those of you with a short-term memory, that admission may seem quite obvious. For those of you with memory dating back a few years, hopefully that will resonate as a compliment to Abe.
I'll tell you a couple reasons why I like Lodwick playing at the 4. First of all, if you're going to start Marcus Capers, Reggie Moore and Thompson, then I believe it's paramount to play a 4 that can really shoot it. However, if you're going to start another shooter (say Michael Harthun, for example) alongside Thompson/Moore, then I think you might be better off to play a 4 that might be more interior-oriented. So, starting Capers/Moore/Thompson gives you athletic guards that can defend (Capers), make plays (Moore) and score (Thompson). They also give you the luxury of playing a mobile 4 – like Loddy – who can stretch the defense. Also, I think the 4 is a more natural position for Abe to play because he doesn't have to worry about making plays off the bounce. Here's another reason why I like him at the 4: It puts the team's most vocal leader on the court.
I'm just a guy in the peanut gallery with a background that lends some insight to the topic. And seeing what Klay did at the line and what Loddy did at the 4 put a spring in my step. However, one thing that did worry me about the Cougars' box score Friday was the turnovers. No offense to the Delta Devils, but there is no reason WSU should cough it up 19 times against them. In fact, Coach Bone even said afterward that he was glad the game wasn't televised because the lack of ball care would have had Dick Bennett coming out of his chair.
The only case you can make for these youthful Cougs is that against weaker opponents you might tend to get a little greedy and try to make some plays that aren't quite there. Coaches hate it, of course, but players know that if a risky move or pass doesn't work out it's not going to be a game-changing turnover.
Two more tidbits: One, the Cougs shot 80 percent from the line. Not too shabby no matter what level of competition you're facing. And two, attendance for the game was 9,188! I wish I could have made it 9,189. Just probably couldn't have given you nine rebounds.